Sunday, May 31, 2015

Homily for Trinity Sunday

Homily for
Trinity Sunday
May 31, 2015
Rom 8: 14-17
Matt 28: 16-20
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

Someone was quoted anonymously in America magazine as saying:  “I think a good life is one where you find out who you really are.”[1]  Today’s liturgy enables believers to discover who we really are:  “Those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God” (Rom 8: 14).

Baptism Banner
Holy Name of Jesus Church
New Rochelle
And daughters of God!  Whoever has been gifted with the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation has entered a new relationship with God.  The relationship isn’t a natural one, i.e., one based on our nature—God being divine, and we human; but a relationship of adoption.  St. John writes at the beginning of his Gospel:  “To those who did accept [Jesus Christ] he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God” (1:12-13).

In Jesus’ name God adopts us into his family as his children and his heirs “with Christ” (Rom 8:17), to inherit—as a gift God freely gives us (“not by human choice”)—the same glory, the same eternal happiness, that Jesus enjoys in his human nature after his resurrection and ascension—the human nature that Jesus shares with us thru his conception of the Virgin Mary, the human nature that he has used as the means of sharing the glory of his divine nature with us.

According to St. Matthew’s Gospel, just before ascending into heaven Jesus commissions his apostles to go forth and “make disciples of all nations” (28:19).  They are to do that by baptizing and teaching (28:19).

Presumably some teaching is to precede the Baptism of adults, and that has always been the Church’s practice.  But teaching also is to follow Baptism, which also was the practice of the ancient Church.  In today’s Church, in which most people are baptized as infants, that teaching role is taken up, or is supposed to be taken up, 1st of all by parents—Pope Francis recently reminded parents of their responsibility—and then by the extended family and the parish community.

And we must add Confirmation, which is part of our Christian initiation.  The reception of the sacraments doesn’t mean that our conversion is complete or our learning is complete.  The sacraments of initiation are only the beginning of our journey with Christ toward the “long life on the land which the Lord” our God is giving us forever (cf. Deut 4:40), which isn’t a geographical place like the land of Israel, but “our true native land,” our true homeland, in the Father’s house.  In Christ’s name the Church continues to teach us, and she continues to call us to conversion:  to reject whatever is sinful in our lives and to adopt more virtuous ways of living.  So, dear disciples of the Lord Jesus, your religious instruction must always continue—thru the reading and study of sacred Scripture, other religious reading, participation in the sacred liturgy and in parish life (even in your new parish), study, discussion, and prayer.

Jesus’ command, followed by the Church for 20 centuries, is to “baptize disciples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19).  To do something in someone’s name is to invoke that someone’s presence, his power, his authority.  An ambassador, e.g., speaks and acts in the name of his country; a police officer acts in the name of the city or state; a lawyer speaks in the name of her client.  In biblical terms, the name “can be considered as a substitute for the person.”[2]  To be baptized “in the name of” the Holy Trinity, then, is to come under the influence and authority of the Trinity, to be put into a relationship with these 3 Persons.  From Paul’s writings we know that’s a relationship of family, of being sisters and brothers of Christ in his humanity, of being adopted as God’s children.  What a noble gift God has given us!
Holy Trinity
Hendrik von Balen (1620)
St. James Church, Antwerp

The Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus, adopts us as God’s children and gives us the right to call God our Abba, our papa, our daddy, as Jesus did in his prayer (Rom 8:15).  This is how much God loves us; this is how familiar he wants us to be with him—familiar, as in “comfortable with, at ease with”; familiar, as in “part of the family, at home with.”  The Spirit leads us to become God’s children, and he leads us to respond to God’s gift by praising our Father in Jesus’ name, giving the Father thanks together with Jesus, communing with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.  We invoke the Spirit over our bread and wine that he may transform those earthly elements into the body and blood of Jesus, just as he transforms us in Reconciliation from sinners into grace-filled saints.  The Spirit enables us to suffer, even, as Christ suffered; maybe not suffer persecution for our Christian faith, as many of St. Paul’s readers had to and some of our brothers and sisters are suffering in the Middle East; but to suffer all the common afflictions that come with our humanity, including physical pain, illness, grief, etc., and to unite our sufferings with those of Christ—which we can do because the Holy Spirit acts in us.  The time is at hand, however, when we may also have to suffer socially and financially for the faith because our increasingly secular society is gradually making it harder for us to practice our faith outside the walls of the church building.  “If only we suffer with Christ, we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:17), i.e., take our places with him in the Father’s house as heirs of God’s kingdom, as beloved, faithful sons and daughters.  That’s who we really are.

[1] Margot Patterson, “Finding Your Center,” America, Dec. 1, 2014, p. 12.
[2] John L. McKenzie, SJ, Dictionary of the Bible (Milwaukee, 1965), p. 603.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pastoral Assignments for 2015-2016: Round 2

Pastoral Assignments for 2015-2106: Round 2

This afternoon Fr. Tom Dunne announced 23 assignments for the coming school/pastoral year.  His cover letter linked the assignments to Pentecost, praying that "the Holy Spirit come upon the members of the Salesian Family on this day so that the Good News of the Gospel will be proclaimed in all who follow the charism of Don Bosco."  Since May 24 ordinarily is the feast of Mary Help of Christians (transferred this year to May 25), he also linked the assignments to her, on whom "we rely for help in discerning those fields of labor we take up each year out of a spirit of obedience ... [in the] mission that has been entrusted to us on behalf of the young who are poor, abandoned, and most at risk."

Two new directors were appointed, Fr. Mike Conway as director of the Don Bosco Cristo Rey community in Takoma Park/Silver Spring, Md., and Fr. Rich Rosin as director of the St. Petersburg SDB community.

Two directors were appointed to new terms, Fr. Rich Authier to a 3d in Montreal and Fr. Steve Ryan to a 2d in Tampa.

Two confreres will be moving out of our community at the provincial house:  Fr. Rich Alejunas down to Salesian HS as CYM, and also continuing ministry to the Hispanic members of Blessed Sacrament Parish, and Fr. Abe Feliciano into residence with the Salesian HS community but continuing as province delegate for youth ministry with his office still here in the basement adjacent to mine.

One confrere will be moving in, our vice provincial-elect, Fr. Tim Zak, leaving parish ministry in Port Chester, N.Y., and his role as director of the SDB community there.

The archdiocese of New York hasn't yet decided what the parish set-up in Port Chester will be; so Fr. Tom can't announce any pastoral assignments for the parish-to-be and associated ministries.  But Dr. Ann Heekin has been appointed executive director of the Don Bosco Community Center, replacing Bro. Tom Dion, who will move to Orange, N.J., as part of the formation team for young SDBs and candidates.

Also moving to become part of the formation team in Orange will be Fr. Dennis Hartigan, departing from his teaching role at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J.  Fr. Dennis will also assist Fr. Jim Berning with vocation ministry.

Moving out of the formation team is Fr. Jay Horan, going to the staff of the Salesian Boys & Girls Club of East Boston.  At the same time, Fr. Rich Putnam will move from the Club to the Marian Shrine-Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw to help with retreat work and other ministries of the SDBs.

Three confreres are moving out of Salesian HS:  Bro. Don Caldwell to St. Petersburg to carry out ministry in the SDB community; Fr. Matt DeGance to Don Bosco Prep, Ramsey, as CYM; and Bro. Lenny Carlino to Abp. Shaw HS in Marrero, La., to start his practical training.

Also moving south will be newly ordained (come June 27) Fr. Mike Eguino as a teacher at Abp. Shaw; obviously he'll also provide priestly ministry there and in the area.

Two young SDBs will come to Salesian HS to start their practical training:  Bro. Steve Eguino (an alumnus of the school and brother of Fr. Mike) and Bro. Craig Spence (a former Salesian Lay Missioners).

Fr. Manny Gallo will move from CYM at Don Bosco Prep, Ramsey, to teacher at Don Bosco Cristo Rey HS, and priestly minister there and in the area.

Fr. Mario Villaraza will move from Surrey, B.C., where he's been pastor at OL of Good Counsel for many years, to St. Benedict's Parish in Etobicoke, Ont., as an assistant pastor.

Finally, we're blessed to be sending 3 young SDBs to study theology at the Ratisbonne Monastery in Jerusalem.  Bro. Eddie Chincha and Bro. Juan Pablo Rubio have completed their practical training at Salesian HS, New Rochelle, and Bro. Adam Dupre his at Abp. Shaw HS.  God willing, in 4 years they'll be ordained priests.

There are certainly more assignments to come--not least, the naming of a pastor in Port Chester (in coordination with the archdiocese) and a director for our community at the provincial house, where Fr. Steve Dumais is completing 6 years in that office and as vice provincial.

Homily for Pentecost Sunday

Homily for the
Solemnity of Pentecost
May 24, 2015
Acts 2: 1-11
Gal 5: 16-25
John 15: 26-27; 16: 12-15
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.  And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.  Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2: 1-3).

Coming of the Holy Spirit (source unknown)
As you know, our lectionary supplies us with a 3-year cycle of Scripture readings for  Sundays.  But on Pentecost we always read from Acts 2 for the 1st reading, which tells the dramatic story of the Spirit’s coming upon the disciples and converting them from “mere disciples,” i.e., those learning from Jesus (which is what “disciples” means), into apostles, those sent forth to proclaim Jesus to the world.  Then for each of the 3 years of the lectionary cycles we have different optional 2d readings and gospels, which we’ve used today.

Pentecost is also one of the 3 Sundays of the year when we have a sequence that follows the 2d reading.  The sequences were originally intended as hymns to accompany a long procession with the book of the gospels from the altar to the ambo.  Our processions usually aren’t very long any more, if there’s a procession at all.  The liturgy has preserved 3 sequences—for Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi—which are magnificent poetically, musically, and theologically.

About the Spirit’s coming recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, we can note these points:

1st, the Spirit descends upon the entire Church gathered as one, i.e., upon the community.  There is no Spirit and no Church without community, without our gathering as one body of Jesus Christ.  We must come together to worship; we must believe together the one faith proclaimed in the Scriptures and taught to us by the apostles.

2d, the Spirit “rests on each one of them,” upon the 120 individuals gathered together in that upper room.  Altho the Spirit comes upon the group, the Spirit also infuses himself into the heart and mind and soul of each of them.  Each Christian, each baptized person, has a share of the Spirit and must do as this 1st body of Christians did:  go out and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus.  Each Christian is a public witness of the resurrection of Jesus and the eternal life that Jesus offers to us thru the forgiveness of our sins.  “You also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning,” Jesus says in the gospel (John 15:27).

3d, the Spirit is a force for unity.  Jesus prayed that all his disciples would be one, one with himself and the Father, one among themselves.  It’s the Spirit that draws us all together.  You were brought here by the Holy Spirit!  Filled with the Holy Spirit, the Church goes out to bring the whole world—represented by all the different nationalities evidenced in the reading—into union with God thru Jesus.  No one can be excluded from God’s redeeming love—not on account of ethnicity or language or color or gender or culture or place of birth.

In the reading from Galatians, St. Paul reminds the Christians of the Roman province of Galatia—in modern Turkey—that the Holy Spirit is opposed to sinful attitudes and behavior, what Paul calls “the flesh.”  The “flesh” means not just impurity and lust and gluttony and drunkenness, but all sorts of selfishness and idolatry; Paul provides a list in what we read, and he has other lists in other letters.

That famous phrase of Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?” is usually quoted out of context.  The context—in that press conference on the plane returning from Rio—was, “If someone is truly trying to follow the Lord,” who am I to judge his failures?  Only the Lord knows the heart.  None of us knows any individual’s standing before God.  In fact, St. Paul tells the Corinthians that he doesn’t “even pass judgment on” himself (I, 4:3).  God alone can judge our attitudes, motivations, words, and actions.

And he will!  “The Spirit and the flesh are opposed to each other” (Gal 5:17), and “those who do the works of the flesh … will not inherit the kingdom of God,” Paul tells us (5:19,21), whereas “those who belong to Christ Jesus,” i.e., who “live by the Spirit” of Jesus, “have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24).  The Spirit helps us to know right and wrong attitudes and behaviors, helps us correct the wrong ones, helps us live in accordance with the teaching of Jesus.

In fact, if we were to continue reading Acts 2, we’d hear St. Peter preaching to all those “devout Jews from every nation under heaven” who, hearing the roar of the Spirit’s “strong driving wind,” came running to the house where Jesus’ disciples were staying—Peter preaching that God had raised Jesus from the dead, and therefore they should “repent and be converted, that [their] sins may be wiped away” (2:15,19) and they be granted salvation.

We noted above that the Spirit is a spirit of unity.  Repentance, conversion, is necessary for unity.  If we continue in our selfishness, in the works of the flesh—be they sins of sexual immorality or of ethnic hatred or of financial greed or whatever else—we work against unity:  our unity with God’s goodness, our unity with the rest of humanity.  In some fashion we all sin against that unity, and the Gospel calls us to constant conversion.  The works of the flesh are evident in the mayhem of the Middle East, in the drug trade, in human trafficking, in racism and sexism, in abortion, in the porn industry, in the abuse of children, in adulterous and homosexual and non-committed relations, and in a whole lot of social ills.  Pope Francis would add gossip as a work of the flesh.  Here are a few things he’s said about that:

      It’s so rotten, gossip.  At the beginning it seems to be something enjoyable and fun, like a piece of candy.  But at the end, it fills the heart with bitterness and also poisons us.

      Those who live judging their neighbor, speaking ill of their neighbor, are hypocrites, because they lack the strength and the courage to look at their own shortcomings.

      I tell you the truth:  I am convinced that if each one of us would purposely avoid gossip, at the end, we would become a saint!  It’s a beautiful path![1]

When one is converted, then the works of the Spirit become evident; Paul list 9 of them, including peace, kindness, and faithfulness.

Speaking to the apostles at the Last Supper—which is where today’s gospel reading comes from—Jesus calls the Spirit “the Spirit of truth” (John 15:26) and promises that the Spirit “will guide you to all truth” (16:13).  The Spirit that descended upon the Church at Pentecost guides the Church in knowing and proclaiming the truth.  The Church has that mission:  to proclaim the goodness and mercy of God, to name sin and call us to conversion, as Peter did on the 1st Pentecost, as Paul did thruout his long career, as the Church has been doing for 20 centuries.  Every Christian is called to stick to the truth of the Gospel, to live it, to testify to it, to try to infuse it into society, e.g., thru respect for the dignity of every human being, thru forgiveness of those who injure us, thru generosity toward the needy, etc.

If we “follow the Spirit,” as Paul urges us, then we may be confident that the Spirit will (in the English translation of today’s Sequence) “give us virtue’s sure reward; give us his salvation, give us joys that never end.”  Our union with God and with all God’s people will be perfected in eternal friendship, eternal life, eternal joy.

        [1] Quoted in “The Tyranny of Talk,” America, Dec. 1, 2014, p. 5.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Homily for Friday, 7th Week of Easter

Homily for Friday,
7th Week of Easter
May 22, 2015
Provincial House, New Rochelle                   

In the Collect we prayed about “partaking of so great a gift.”  From the structure of the prayer, it appears that the gift in which we partake is having “the gates of eternity unlocked for us.”

It sounds a bit strange—to me, anyway—that the gates of eternity (which in context means heaven in particular) are unlocked for us.  We’re still here, and I’ve never had a mystical experience that transported me thru those gates—nor have you, I dare say.

Yet we learned in the earliest days of our catechism—those of us who cut our teeth on the Baltimore Catechism—that one of the effects of Baptism is that the gates of heaven were opened for us.  Does that mean they’re open only when we die, only when we arrive at the proverbial pearly gates?

I don’t think so, and neither does the Collect, which speaks of our “partaking of so great a gift,” present participle.  So we already partake of or have a share in this “great gift” of open gates.

What opened those gates for us?  According to the prayer, “the glorification of Christ and the light of the Holy Spirit.”  Christ’s glorification—his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension—burst open the gates of the underworld, we know, setting free souls till then bound by sin and condemned to death.  But then the gates of heaven must also have been unlocked for those souls to enter:  out of the underworld, into the upper world!

But what do the “unlocked gates of eternity” mean for us who are still here?  And how does “the light of the Holy Spirit” figure in this heavenly mystery?

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (Jan van Eyck)
Heaven is open to our prayers, our prayers brought by the glorified Christ, one of us in his humanity, to the Father’s throne.  Heaven is open to shower grace from the Father upon us thru the Son, and thru the intercessions of the saints, with whom we have communion thru those open gates.

Heaven is open to us so that God’s holy ones may reach down to us as our patrons, protectors, and guides, like Mary, the powerful Help of Christians, and our individual patrons:  Abraham “our father in faith,” Andrew the 1st to answer Christ’s call, Anthony the Preacher, Bruno the Carthusian, Dennis patron of France, John the Beloved, Kenneth patron of Kilkenny, Kevin the Noble Abbot, Mark the Evangelist, Michael God’s right hand, Richard the Bishop, Robert the Cistercian, Stephen the Protomartyr, and Thomas the Doubter.  Redeemed by the glory of Christ, joined to us now by the Holy Spirit, bond of love, they labor spiritually to draw us toward themselves thru those pearly gates.

And “the light of the Holy Spirit”?  The Spirit is Holy Wisdom, let loose by the Father and the Risen Son to pour his fire and light upon our hearts and minds so that we may know and desire spiritual goods, things divine—starting with the mystery who is Christ our Savior.  Following the Spirit’s light, we’ll come to Christ in Person on the other side of those heavenly gates.

Heaven is open to us, comes down to us, is with us in the sacred mysteries, actions of both Christ and the Spirit.  A story from medieval history—probably legend—illustrates this well.  It tells how the Rus, the ancestors of Russia, became Orthodox Christians.  According to the story, Vladimir, prince of Kiev, toward the end of the 10th century wanted to convert his people from paganism but was unsure which faith they should adopt.  Accordingly, he sent ambassadors to the Crimea, where a Muslim people dwelt, to investigate their religion.  The envoys weren’t much impressed.  He sent other ambassadors to Germany to look at Latin Christianity and, sad to say, they weren’t much impressed either.  He sent a third delegation to Constantinople, where the ambassadors witnessed the glories of Byzantine liturgy:  fine vestments, majestic icons, golden vessels, incense, chanting, and all the ritual—and they were very much impressed, reporting to Vladimir, “We didn’t know whether we were in heaven or on earth.”  So Vladimir and his people converted to Eastern Christianity.

How wonderful if our celebration of the liturgy does transport us mystically to heaven; but of a certainty it does bring heaven down to us.  For the time being, in these moments when we’re still in time and history, “may our devotion grow deeper” and “our faith be strengthened” by our partaking in the heavenly gift we have received.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Homily for 7th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
7th Sunday of Easter
May 17, 2015
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.                                     

In the Collect a few minutes ago, we prayed that “we, who believe that the Savior of the human race is with [God the Father] in [his] glory, may experience … his abiding presence among us.”  We prayed that we might always know and feel and benefit from the presence of Jesus with us, alongside us, leading us, guiding us, acting as our rearguard, enlightening us, helping us.

The Ascension of Jesus expresses our belief that our Lord is in heaven, body and soul.  Yet we expect him somehow to be present with us.  And he did promise to remain with us always until the end of the world (cf. Matt 28:20).  The gospel verse today quotes from John’s Gospel:  “I will not leave you orphans, says the Lord.  I will come back to you, and your hearts will rejoice” (14:18).

So we might ask how we “experience his abiding presence among us.”

The Eucharist. Window in
provincial house chapel, New Rochelle
The 1st way that we’re all familiar with is the sacraments.  The very Christ who is enthroned in heaven resides with us in the Holy Eucharist, body and soul, humanity and divinity.  He is literally our companion, someone we break bread with (that’s the etymology of companion).  In the sacrament of Reconciliation, we experience the personal forgiveness of Jesus as much as did people in the gospels, like the woman who bathed his feet with her tears, the tax collector Zacchaeus at Jericho, the paralyzed man lowered on his pallet thru the roof.  Jesus abides with us in his priests, who share in the one priesthood of Jesus, consecrating us in Baptism, offering Jesus’ sacrifice that atones for our sins, blessing our activities, consoling us in our sorrows, preaching the word of God so that we might be fully “consecrated in the truth” (cf. John 17:17).

The 2d way that we “experience his abiding presence among us” is thru the Spirit.  In our 1st reading today (Acts 1:15-17,20-26), we saw the “Lord who knows the hearts of all” showing which disciple he had chosen to take Judas’ place in the apostolic ministry (cf. Acts 1:24-25)—and this before the Holy Spirit dramatically descended upon the Church on Pentecost Sunday.  If God was guiding that decision even before the Spirit filled the Church, how much more does God now lead and guide the Church thru the Holy Spirit!  That guidance, that assurance that we walk with God, is vitally important for our “consecration in the truth,” for our knowing how Jesus wants us to live in the 21st century.  We have to deal with immensely complicated moral issues, don’t we?  What is right?  What is true?  We count on the Spirit to help us figure that out and to speak thru the apostolic ministry, i.e., the Pope and the bishops, as the Spirit did when Peter and the others were discovering who should take Judas’ place.

The 3d way that we “experience his abiding presence among us” is thru the love that the disciples of Jesus show toward everyone—not only toward one another but toward the whole world (consider, e.g., how Catholic Relief Services has leapt right into bringing aid to the victims of the earthquake in Nepal, a country that’s 81% Hindu, 9% Buddhist, 4% Muslim, only .2% Catholic.  We try to love everyone!  “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.  God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him” (1 John 4:16).  We reveal that we remain in love by practicing love, that same love that Jesus demonstrated when he walked among us and taught us.

Students from Don Bosco School in Katmandu, Nepal,
bring food and other supplies to earthquake victims (ANS)
That love, of course, can’t be practiced only toward distant people like those of Nepal.  “Charity begins at home,” we say, and that means the 1st people whom we must love are our families and the people whose paths we cross every day.  If we don’t love them in practice, not just in words, then our providing relief to Nepal doesn’t mean a whole lot.

As the gospel reading indicates, love is consistent with truth.  In the gospels Jesus isn’t “lovey-dovey” and mushy; he called a spade a spade; he denounced injustice, hypocrisy, and hardness of heart; he called everyone to repentance (you and me, too, dear friends).  He reminded us that he doesn’t belong to the world, and neither can his followers belong to the world, behave as the world behaves, value what the world values, think as the world thinks (cf. John 17:14-16).  Rather, Jesus taught the truth about God—his universal love for everyone, for example—and showed God’s love for the least in society and forgave his enemies; and he invites us, challenges us, to “go and do likewise” (cf. Luke 10:37).

In his apostolic letter Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis wrote:  “True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others.  The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.”

At the Last Supper, Jesus said to the apostles, “By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  By that love shall we know that Jesus still abides among us.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Homily for Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Homily for the Solemnity
of the Ascension of the Lord
May 14, 2015
Mark 16: 15-20
Eph 4: 1-13
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.
Wartburg Home, Mt. Vernon

“Jesus said to his disciples:  ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature'” (Mark 16: 15).

Benvenuto da Garofalo (1481?-1559)
At the end of Mark’s gospel, as at the end of Matthew’s and the beginning Luke’s Acts (our 1st reading), Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission.  That commission is to continue his own mission of proclaiming the Good News—what he announced in the 1st words of his ministry (Mark 1:14-15).  That commission is given “to his disciples,” not exclusively to the 11 (Matthias not yet having been chosen to fill out the apostolic college to its full number of 12).  So this commission is given to all the disciples, to the whole Church, and not only to the Church’s leaders.

Jesus continues ty commissioning them to baptize believers into divine fellowship and to perform signs that they are truly doing God’s work.  Mark refers to some spectacular signs of God’s assistance in the disciples’ ministry (16:17-18).  Most of Jesus’ disciples in fact don’t perform these sorts of signs.  Some sects go out of their way to work at them, e.g., handling dangerous snakes (but none, to my knowledge, deliberately drinks poison), and some charismatic individuals are given gifts of healing and exorcism, as we know.

Paul, on the other hand, refers to more ordinary indications of the presence of God’s Spirit:  humility, gentleness, patience, mutual forbearance, unity of spirit (Eph 4:1-3).  Doing this, brothers/sisters, in the long run may be more effective preaching and teaching than anything else.  Only this can truly evidence that Christ, tho not visibly present, is alive and active and working with us everywhere; these are the signs that confirm the Word (Mark 16:20).

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Homily for 6th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
6th Sunday of Easter
May 10, 2015
1 John 4: 7-10
Iona College, New Rochelle

“Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God” (1 John 4: 7).

Our 2d and 3d readings this evening come from St. John, and they emphasize love.  This love isn’t Hollywood romance, the sentimentalism of pop culture, or the eroticism so common in the mass media these days.  Jesus teaches and John preaches something else entirely.

1st, this love is self-sacrificing, not self-seeking.  “God’s love was revealed” by his “sending his Son into the world so that we might have life thru him” (4:9).  God went out of his way, so to speak, to reach down to us—sinners—to lift us up to his own life.

This self-abasement of the Son of God, lowering himself to our state, was costly. He became “expiation for our sins” (4:10).  Became the sacrifice that atones for our evildoing, our malice.  He laid down his life for us (cf. John 15: 13).

Crucifix in the chapel
of Don Bosco Prep, Ramsey, N.J.

We don’t fully understand the doctrine of the atonement—why Christ had to die, how his death erased our sins and their punishment.  I think of it as an act of solidarity:  Christ loves us so much that he became all that we are and underwent all the injustice and sufferings that we do, so as to absorb human nature and the human condition fully into his Divine Person, and by conquering death to carry humanity along with him, “so that we might have life thru him.”  “Greater love than this no one has” (15:13).

2d, the love that God reveals to us in Jesus takes initiative.  God doesn’t love us in response to our love for him:  “not that we have loved God, but that he loved us” (4:10), loved us even when we were alienated from him by our sins.  The parable of the prodigal son is the image to call to mind, the image of that father ever loving his lost son, even when he was far away and thinking only of himself, and then eagerly, enthusiastically, welcoming him when he decided to come home.  When we truly love someone—God or another human being—our love doesn’t depend on that person’s response to us.  We call it unconditional love.  You who are parents, think of the love you had for your newborn, who—obviously—wasn’t capable of showing you any love in response to all the love that your poured out upon him or her; and the love you kept for your teenagers when, maybe, they were anything but positive about you, your ideas, your tastes, and your rules.

Return of the Prodigal (Rembrandt)

3d, a disciple who loves Jesus seeks to please him.  He commands us to keep his commandments (15:10), above all the commandment to “love one another” as he has loved us (15:12).  He calls us his friends, not his slaves (15:15), and friends are eager to please each other, to help each other, to do things for each other; in St. Paul’s words, to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2).  “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (15:14).  Love after the example of Jesus is other-focused; we focus it on him, not on ourselves, the way that most mothers focus on their children, not themselves.  What will make Jesus happy?  That we keep God’s commandments, respecting and honoring his Father, respecting and honoring all God’s children, accepting his friendship, wanting to be part of his company of friends.

God’s commandments aren’t meant to be hassles, even if sometimes they challenge us.  Keeping them, in the long run, gives us satisfaction and fulfillment.  Jesus calls it joy:  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete” (15:11).  Someone who’s greedy or envious or angry or lustful—those are 4 of the 7 deadly sins, you notice—is never satisfied, never content—never joyful.  Someone who lives virtuously, lives to please God, practices the commandments and the beatitudes, is always at peace, in harmony with God, humanity, and the universe; has one foot in heaven, you might say; and that person’s joy will be completed in the resurrection.  He or she already has God’s life, and will come to the fullness of life in eternal union with Jesus, who makes us his friends.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Pastoral Assignments for 2015-2016: Round 1

Pastoral Assignments for 2015-2016: Round 1

The new assignments for 2015-2016 are coming out much later than usual. This may be due in part to the transition from one provincial to another with some consequent shaking-up in the wider field of province leadership. In some cases, bishops also have to be consulted, and at least in the case of Port Chester, N.Y., the archdiocese is still evaluating the SDB proposal for serving the Catholics of that village, where the present 4 parishes are to be consolidated into 1 under SDB leadership.

Fr. Mike Conway
The 1st new pastoral assignment was announced by Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial, on May 5. Fr. Michael Conway will succeed Fr. Steve Shafran as president of Don Bosco Cristo Rey HS and Corporate Work Study Program in Takoma Park, Md. Fr. Steve will become provincial on July 1. The selection of Fr. Mike was made by the SDBs and the archdiocese of Washington, which share responsibility for DBCR.

Fr. Mike, from Winthrop, Mass., has been president of St. Petersburg Catholic HS and director of the SDB community there since 2008. He has previously been principal at Abp. Shaw HS in Marrero, La., and Don Bosco Tech in Paterson, N.J., and CYM at Salesian HS in New Rochelle, St. Pete Catholic, and Abp. Shaw and been executive director of the Salesian Boys & Girls Club of East Boston. He was ordained in 1992 by then-Bishop Oscar Rodriguez.

Fr. Tom's announcement noted Fr. Mike's "cheerful and encouraging presence in every phase of school life" at St. Pete Catholic and his diligent work "to animate the Salesian charism and infuse Don Bosco's educational system throughout the entire school environment."

Today the St. Petersburg Diocese announced Fr. Mike's replacement as president of St. Peter Catholic: Fr. Richard Rosin, who has been director of guidance there for the last 5 years. That appointment, of course, was made jointly with the SDBs.

Fr. Rich Rosin
Fr. Rich is a native of Queens, N.Y., and was ordained in 1995. He earned an M.S. in psychology from the College of New Rochelle in 2008. He has taught at Salesian HS in New Rochelle and Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., been principal of Abp. Shaw HS, and assistant pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Etobicoke, Ont.

In a statement for St. Petersburg Catholic, Fr. Tom described Fr. Rich as "a Salesian priest who lives the charism of Don Bosco and can foster that charism among the educational community." He added that Fr. Rich "is well equipped to continue the implementation of a strategic planning process that has already been formulated by Fr. Michael Conway and members of the St. Petersburg Catholic High School administration."

At this time no SDB director (local superior) has been named for either the Takoma Park/Silver Spring community or the St. Petersburg one.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Easter
May 3, 2015
1 John 3: 18-24
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth” (1 John 3: 18).

St. John hits constantly on the theme of loving one another in practice, not only in words:  walking the walk and not just talking the talk, as they say today.  Don Bosco tells us Salesians that the young must see that we love them, beyond what’s in our hearts or our words.

St. John the Evangelist
John links our actions and our keeping the commandments with “the truth.”  We think of truth as something intellectual or dogmatic:  the truths of the faith, or “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”  But John speaks of “belonging to the truth” thru our loving “in deed” and acting according to what’s in our hearts.  We can understand that our truth—our integrity—depends upon a consistency between our thoughts and our deeds, between our beliefs and our actions.  As John says in the next chapter, anyone who says she loves God but hates her sister or brother is a liar (4:20).

A long biblical tradition also links truth with the divine law, or in terms of today’s readings, with the commandments.  God’s word is truth.  Christian philosophers of a later age also identify the natural law with truth.  To live the truth, then, means to conform our behavior with God’s word, whether that’s the word revealed on Mt. Sinai or in the Sermon on the Mount, or the word found in nature.  To love God “in deed and truth,” we speak and act as he wishes, in accord with our status as creatures made in his image, as sisters and brothers of one another because God is our common Father and all of us are bound together by our Lord Jesus.

John speaks of “whatever our hearts condemn” (3:20).  When we look into our hearts, of course, we discover our infidelities—in both desires and actions—and by God’s grace we’re moved to repent, to condemn our sins and our unworthy, unlawful temptations and desires and the actions to which they give birth.  “God is greater than our hearts” (3:20) and conquers our sins, absolves us, purifies us, and keeps us as his beloved children.

When John adds, “and knows everything,” don’t we hear an echo of Peter’s encounter with the Risen One at the lakeshore?  “Peter, do you love me?”  “Lord, you know everything.  You know that I love you” (John 21:17).  This is Peter the sinner speaking.  Yes, even when we love the Lord intensely, as Peter did, in our weakness we sin.  We trust the Lord to know our hearts—our fears, our anxieties, our frustrations, our flightiness, our uncertainties, our waverings—and our fundamental love and commitment, like Peter’s.  We trust that God not only knows our hearts but also can make them whole, as he did Peter’s.

“We have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask” (3:21-22).  Confidence means faith, trust.  The confidence we have is in God’s unfailing love.  “Whatever we ask”—in the gospel context, this seems to mean asking for mercy, forgiveness, redemption, the grace to live a Christian life, to live in “the Spirit he gave us” (3:24).  For Jesus tells us to ask for the Spirit, God’s great gift that brings us pardon, unites us to the Father and the Son, and keeps us in love with the One who made us and saves us.